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U.N. Feeds Thousands in Afghanistan

December 14, 1999

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ A rare moment of cooperation between Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia and the country’s opposition allowed the United Nations to feed and clothe as many as 50,000 refugees, a U.N. official said today.

For five days, U.N. trucks traveled along the northern airport road outside Kabul, Afghanistan’s war-ravaged capital.

Afghanistan’s opposition, which controls about 10 percent of the country, is based north of Kabul. Fighting in the north last summer drove thousands of refugees from their homes, and many are living in desperate conditions in the opposition stronghold Panjshir Valley, where snow blankets the ground and temperatures are below freezing even during the day.

The U.N. convoy crossed the front line slowly. It inched past Taliban soldiers, their guns silent, until it reached the opposition-held area of Gulbahar, 35 miles from Kabul.

There, between 7,000 and 8,000 families received blankets, food supplied by the World Food Program, quilts provided by UNICEF and thousands of warm sweaters, U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said. Other aid groups have tried to rebuild war-destroyed houses and have erected some new shelters, she said.

But the refugee situation, both in Taliban and opposition areas, is too difficult for aid groups to handle adequately, Ms. Bunker said.

The U.N. and the International Red Cross estimate that more than two-thirds of Kabul’s nearly 1 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival. The situation has worsened as food prices soared because of a poor harvest, relentless war and a drastic drop in food supplies from neighboring Pakistan.

``The heart of the problem is at the Pakistan border,″ Ms. Bunker said.

Pakistan’s new army rulers have tried to stop the vast amount of smuggling between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But closer regulation of traffic through the border has seriously reduced the amount of goods that make the crossing, Pakistani and Afghan officials say.

Pakistan has called on the international community to step up food aid to Afghanistan. But, Ms. Bunker said, ``we just can’t feed everybody.″

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